Review: Ryka Assist XT
Long ago, I learned not to go cheap on shoes. I struggle with pain in my feet, requiring prescription orthotics and really good shoes just to get through my day. Lately, I’ve come to realize the Asics Kayano 13 running shoes that I wear at lab just weren’t cutting it anymore. I’m not sure what went wrong — maybe my foot shrunk a bit with my recent weight loss, which resulted in a loss of motion control. All I know is that they needed to be replaced. By early afternoon, I could barely walk, and by evening, I couldn’t even stand. Considering how much I’m on my feet at work, this was a serious problem. At the same time, I had these great studio aerobics shoes that were dying as well, likely from overuse. (Hence the weight loss! Yeah!) One pair needed to be replaced immediately, and one needed just a little more time. So, when a crazy shoe sale came up, I bit the bullet and ordered Ryka’s top of the line cross-trainer: the Ryka Assist XT. Two birds, one shoe.
Why a cross trainer? Cross-trainers are the multitaskers of the shoe universe, and in a world where I’m forced to multitask to get half the things I need done, it seems logical that I should consider a shoe that does similarly. While running shoes are designed for forward motion and studio shoes provide support for side to side motions, cross-trainers do a little of both. I could indeed run in cross-trainers, but it would never feel as good as an excellent running shoe. Cross-trainers are great for the gym and indoor classes, but they’ll never have the lightness and bounce of a great indoor studio shoe. However, due the natural anatomy of a cross-trainer — they often come with a wider front foot base — this type of shoe may be the best all-around footwear for busy people with wide feet. ::raises hand::
Ryka, who? Ryka is a unique company because they tailor solely to athletically driven women. When examining a Ryka shoe versus another brand’s athletic shoe, the quality that stands out most is how their shoes are narrow in the heel and wider in the forefoot. This is more akin to the natural anatomy of a woman’s foot. I suffer from this characteristic completely, so I’m drawn to this biomechanical design. (I’ve certainly met women — I even work with one — who just have tiny feet with really tiny forefeet. Rykas are not for you ladies. Sorry — you’re missing out on a great company, and I feel for you! But hey, you can always try them out, just in case!) For my feet, I found that the Ryka Assist XT perfects this design.
How does the shoe feel? When I first put on the shoe, I literally squeed in excitement. First off, I was happy that I had ordered the right size, as it’s very hit-or-miss when I buy shoes online. Then, I began to notice the classic Ryka feel. My heel was totally secure and cushioned without feeling like it was losing blood circulation. I have no worries about motion control. In the forefeet, I have that awesome roomy toebox. I can wiggle all my toes comfortably in the shoe. My favorite part of the shoe is the middle — it’s snug and supported well. I can feel how well the shoe was providing lateral support just by how it felt at rest.
Do you have enough arch support? Rykas always come with a removable nitracel sockliner, so if the shoe doesn’t provide the perfect arch support for you, don’t necessarily put the shoe back on the shelf. The virgin shoe felt like it gave stability to mild pronators. I pronate pretty badly due to my excessively flat feet, so it would have given me some relief, but not enough. So, I think if you have excessive flat feet or high arches (supination), the Assist XT may need a little help. Frankly, I’ve found that no company really makes their standard shoe insole for people on the extreme ends — most go halfway. This is where having removable sockliners, that Ryka provides, are important, making it easy to insert an insole specific to your needs. There are a huge variety of OTC orthotic insoles out there (e.g., Spenco, Superfeet, Sof Sole) or you could do what I did earlier this year: in light of a diagnosed neuroma in my foot, I got prescription custom orthotics. Commercially available orthotics cost typically anywhere between $15-30, whereas custom orthotics range from $200-400. OTC insoles will last a couple months with heavy use, while custom orthotics last on the order of years. (A good warranty is nice, too!)
How about a test drive with the shoes? The Assist XT passed with flying colors in all my feet-related activities. I first took the shoes out on a spin to walk my dog through the hilly community in the San Rafael Hills of Pasadena. It was an incredibly comfortable walk as we went uphill, even with a dog pulling away forcefully to catch squirrels and bicyclists. Then, I took the shoes into work. I didn’t realize how much lateral motion was involved in my labwork, but it became clear my old running shoes just had not supported me well, as I literally shuffled side to side, using multiple stations throughout the lab — finally in comfort.
Since the shoes did well in non-exercise everyday activities, I then decided to give it a real test: a high-impact aerobic workout, specifically Cathe Friedrich’s Body Max 2 Cardio Timesaver Premix. The warmup of BM2 is entirely low-impact, with a fair bit of turning. The shoes, as expected, did just fine on the warmup. The real test came next, when I did a powerful high-impact steady-state step routine, followed by high-impact interval blasts, ending with a much-desired stretch. Through the nonstop step routine, I was flying off the step with the Assist XT. Like the Energizer bunny, I just kept on going and going and going (but mostly because Cathe told me to, too!). My feet were in no pain at all. I never once slipped on the step or the floor, so the traction was great as well. After the step routine was finished, I completed four intervals where I switched off between a mini step routine and plyometric “blasts” to soar my heart rate. I usually cringe at doing plyo moves, as my feet KILL during this part. The shoes (combined with the custom orthotics) provided such great support and cushioning that not only did I do all the plyo moves, I did them deeper than I had done before. By the time the stretch came around, I wanted to pat the Rykas for a job well done.
My qualms with the shoes? There’s not much to complain about, since they fit so well. I am having a bit of a problem finding the right tension for the laces. The way that they loop, it makes it sort of hard to make quick adjustments. Getting the laces right seems to be critical to securing my heel in the shoe as well. I think the shoe is a little heavier than I would like it, but this could also be me comparing it to a really light running shoe and a really light studio shoe — this is the trade-off you make when choosing a multitasking shoe, as opposed to a single function pair. As for style, the shoes come in white/blue and silver/red. I love the silver/red pair that I got, but I can see how some people may think it’s too flashy to wear on a regular basis. I work in jeans and yoga pants 90% of the time, and I’m doing awesome if I remember to comb my hair before I get into lab, so having something that looks cute on me (even if it may mismatch with everything else) is a win.
Where/How do I buy these shoes? I have actually never found Rykas in a brick and mortar store. I once heard of a fabled Ryka walking shoe at Sports Authority, but they were all out. I’m sure they are there, just not at the stores I’ve gone to (and I’ve been looking!). I’ve bought all my Rykas exclusively online — which creates a challenge when picking the shoe size. I wear a Ryka 8.5, an Adidas 7.5, and a Reebok 8. Rykas generally have a higher shoe size number than other brands, but I wouldn’t just guess and then get crushed when the number I picked was wrong. When you have funny feet like mine, it often takes a couple tries. So if you’ve never bought a shoe from Ryka before, I recommend you only buy from online places with free return shipping or free exchange shipping. Trust me, it’s worth it.
As for the price, Rykas are not cheap, but if you’re patient, you can find them on sale. The best places to look for online sales on Rykas would be Sears.com (let me know if you ever find it in the store and not just the website!), Holabird Sports, and Sierra Trading Post. They even show up on Overstock every once in a while, but their shoe sizes are limited, and the styles are usually much older. If you don’t care for cost, go to Zappos — their customer service is phenomenal. For what I paid, I’m very happy with my purchase.